Columns

/
1172 views
4 mins read

Let’s All Kill Tchaikovsky

“There is no more Swan Lake…Tchaikovsky is out”.  Olesia Vorotnyk, a Ukrainian ballerina who took up an AK 47 to defend Ukraine I came across this intriguing story in  The Economist of July 2nd, 2022, of a dancer with Ukraine’s national ballet –

More

Sri Lanka: Formula for Lasting Peace and Prosperity

72 views
5 mins read

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – Albert Einstein

The momentum for resolving the ethnic issue that has bedevilled the country since independence has taken a fresh urgency with the President calling on all parties to convene to discuss the issue and resolve it before the 75th year of independence in 2023.

Underpinning such a resolution will be the imperative of sharing power and in this context, an end to the dominant Sinhala Buddhist polity perspective that has stood in the way of a resolution. In attempting to find a resolution, one hopes that all political parties of all persuasions call a halt to which came first, the chicken or the egg simile when it comes to the ethnic issue. Rather than a debate on who came first and who lived where, a solution based on contemporary realities would be more beneficial for the current and future generations.

If political parties accept equality of all citizens irrespective of their numerical strengths and/or the length of their history and ancestry, all closely knit in the political mess that has been created, and that diversity within such equality is what is unique, and also importantly, move away from ancient geographical boundaries that have been used to create divisions rather than unify people, a resolution will be possible.

Sinhala culture, Tamil culture, Muslim culture have been fashioned over many hundreds if not thousands of years, not just within Sri Lanka but outside it, especially when it comes to Tamil and Muslim cultures. However, the founders of the major religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam may frown and express their disappointment over the way ritualistic cultural practices have deviated their current followers from their original teachings, overshadowing the fundamentals of their teachings with such cultural practices.

Unfortunately, politicians, and many contemporary religious leaders, especially within the Sinhala Buddhist community, have institutionalized religion using ritualistic cultural practices that have no place in what Buddha taught.

In terms of political governance though, the reality is that a fundamental requisite for resolution of the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka is the recognition of cultural diversity and everything associated with that diversity and a mechanism for each group to be able to make decisions through a process of discussion, debate, compromise with other groups. In such a model, a group with a numerical majority cannot be more equal than others as it is against the very principle of recognizing equality within cultural diversity.

The challenge before politicians is whether they are willing to accept this premise, as without an acceptance, and then acting on a mechanism to operationalize such an acceptance, the ethnic issue will continue to be used by all shades of political opinion for their own political ends as they have been doing since independence.

Having said this, even if the premise is accepted, it will not be easy to operationalize it due to various politically important forces preventing the premise being implemented. Despite 74 years of prevarication, political battles, even a war, Sri Lanka has not been able to resolve the ethnic issue and it continues to be an issue that divides the country. It will not be overcome during a few meetings of the political parties represented in Parliament today. Mutual suspicion harboured by different ethnic groups will not disappear overnight after a bon homie in Parliament.

The entire governance system and the caliber of politicians who enter Parliament has to change if a lasting solution to the ethnic issue is to be reached. While the power of interest groups cannot be removed all together from the political arena, their influence can be reduced by strong legislation. These are long-term, time-consuming activities and possible only through progressive steps.

An interim political solution

In the interim, a solution has to be found which will assist in moving the political pendulum in the right direction. The suggestion to introduce a second chamber with powers to veto and/or amend bills presented in Parliament that impinge on the equal rights of ethnic groups has been made as an interim measure until a more progressive new Constitution is introduced to reflect the equality of all belonging to different races and religions, and a degree of self-determination within a unitary, sovereign country.

It is suggested that the second chamber consists of 100 members, with political parties represented in Parliament nominating, by consensus, an equal number of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and one person as the chairperson of the second chamber. None of the nominees should be members of the Parliament, and they should be persons of eminence and proven capabilities, especially in the arena of human rights and social policy development and implementation. In a sense such a body would act like a political watchdog over any basic human rights indiscretions that may be attempted by any government.

While a second chamber of this nature could bring all communities together via their political representatives as far as facilitation of legislation that do not impinge on equal rights of all races and religions, the political system and structures need to change if the people of the country are to be better served by those who the public chooses as their representatives.

A revamped Local government to be bedrock of a new constitution

In this regard, readers are referred to an article written by this columnist under the heading “An opportunity for a reformist Constitution to take Sri Lanka forward

The main thrust of that article was that local government should form the bedrock of a governance structure and that provincial councils should only be forums for local government members in each province to meet annually or biannually to discuss, debate and agree on the governance trajectory in each province. The task of a national Parliament comprising of 150 members elected by the people was proposed only to be engaged in policy development.

This to be done in discussion with local government members in each province, and of course the general public, business organisations, academics, unions, female organisations and civil society organisations.

National Planning & Monitoring Council (NPMC) mechanism and Regional Planning & Monitoring Councils (RPMC)

Finally, in respect of a political system change, this columnist also wrote an article titled “Contours for a new constitution with a difference, for the future, not the past http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2021/09/contours-for-anew-constitution-with.html) where three key features underpinning the suggested contour proposal was presented

The first one being a much-needed stakeholder participation outside of party politics through a National Planning & Monitoring Council (NPMC) mechanism and Regional Planning & Monitoring Councils (RPMC) responsible for developing a high level 10-year (minimum) National Governance Plan. The NPMC and RPMC mechanism and its influence were considered as a means of drawing more and more people from the private sector, universities, and other special interest groups into economic activity, and lessen the involvement of any government entity in activities they should not be engaged in and not competent to do anyway. It was proposed that the private sector should lead and be the engine of economic growth in the country if the future is to be different to the failures of the past.

The second, a devolved political administration via Regional Councils, that provides greater inclusiveness and participatory governance, by the people, for the people. The pivotal role of local government entities within each regional council was stressed as an important prerequisite. The central government’s role was noted as one of coordinating the implementation of the National Governance Plan developed by the NPMC and the RPMCs, once it was approved by the National Parliament.

Thirdly, the coordination of implementation to be led by a 10 to15 member central cabinet of ministers drawn from outside Parliament and appointed by the President, who will work with the relevant ministers in Regional Councils and with the local government entities for effective implementation of the National Governance Plan. This, along with the role to be played by the NPMC and the RPMCs were proposed as a means of bringing in the talent that is there in the country to move the country forward economically, socially and environmentally, more effectively and efficiently, for the benefit of future generations.

The need to change the political system is fundamental to ushering in a new Sri Lanka. It will be insanity if this is not done and if the same system and the same or similar people, some just simply Chameleons changing their political colours from time to time, are given the task of building a new Sri Lanka.

The second chamber that has been proposed as an interim measure could well be a permanent feature in a new reformist constitution, and its representatives selected by Regional Councils rather than the national parliament. Such a chamber would add to the fundamental requisite of power devolution that essentially has to be the foundation of a new Sri Lanka

Indian Supreme Court Weakening Indian Election Commission

/
226 views
3 mins read

The recent observation of the Supreme Court that the country needs Election Commissioners, who will not shirk from even taking on the Prime Minister if required and not just “weak-kneed” yes men, has sent shock waves.  Obviously, by making such sweeping observations, which appear to be hasty, Supreme Court judges give the impression that they think that the Election Commission is not discharging its responsibilities properly and independently.

It appears that the Supreme Court has assumed an “elder brother attitude” towards the Election Commission, even though both Judiciary and Election Commission are independent constitutional bodies  Constitution makers have not said or implied anywhere that Election Commission is subservient to the judiciary.

Many discerning observers wonder whether the Supreme Court has the power and authority to act like a supervisory body over the Election Commission.

The essence of Article 324 of the Constitution

 Article 324 of the Constitution provides a reservoir of power for the Election Commission to act for the avowed purpose of pursuing the goal of a free and fair election and therefore, the Election Commission is in sole charge of determining the conduct of elections.    The terms provided under Article 324 of the constitution are of wide amplitude and empower the Election Commission to take necessary recourse to address the issues.

Obviously, Article 324 of the constitution clearly indicates that the Election Commission can act independently to conduct elections in a fair and free manner, based on the exigency of the situation and the ground realities, in areas where the law is silent.

This also means that the judiciary has no authority to question the Election Commission, whatever may be decisions.

A retrograde step:

Originally, the constitution vested with the Election Commission the responsibility of appointing the election tribunals to take decisions on doubts and disputes arising, in connection with elections to parliament and legislature of the states.

However, on the recommendation of the Election Commission in 1962, the trial of election petitions was entrusted to the judiciary and the institution of election tribunal was abolished.  Article 324 (1) was amended (19th Amendment) Act 1966, to relieve the election commission of the function of appointing election tribunals.

This has proved to be a retrograde step and against the desire of the constitution makers and made the Election Commission look subservient to the judiciary, which the Constitution makers never intended.

Has the judiciary overreached itself?

While the above amendment involves surrendering of the powers of the Election Commission to the judiciary as far as the election tribunals are concerned, the other powers and authority of the Election Commission remain intact.

In the past, several decisions of the Election Commission have been overruled by the judiciary, without recognising the powers of the Election Commission as per the Constitution.

In the process, the image of the Election Commission has been brought down in the public eye by the judiciary, which is a counterproductive development.

Questioning the appointment of Election Commissioners:

Now, the judiciary has taken one more step in spoiling the image of the Election Commission by questioning the appointment of Mr Arun Goel as Election Commissioner.  This appointment has been done by the government as per the set procedure that is followed ever since India’s independence.

At the same time, the Supreme Court judges have ignored the fact that serious questions have been raised in the country about the way of Supreme Court Collegium appoints judges for the Supreme Court and High Court, without transparency. The recent protest by lawyers in a few states against the transfer of judges from one state to another by the Supreme Court pointed to the fact that there are serious misgivings about the decision of the Supreme Court in such matters.

 Can we say that the Supreme Court questioning the appointment procedure of Election Commissioners is like the pot calling the kettle black?

Tenure of Election Commissioners:

Supreme Court judges have also criticised the brief tenure of the election commissioners and said that in many cases, the tenure was too short. However, the fact is that there are many judges who have short tenures and with the recent case of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court remaining in the job only for a few months.

The tenure of judges or election commissioners need not be a matter of concern, as they can do whatever they want within their powers even in short tenure.

Supreme court judges need to reflect on their observations:

The observations of the Supreme Court judges seem to question the capability and credibility of the Election Commissioners without any basis.

If Supreme court judges were to find fault with the Election Commission, in a scenario where both are constitutional bodies, can we say that the Election Commission can also find fault with decisions of the Supreme Court?

One constitutional body criticising another constitutional body is in bad taste and needs to be avoided.

Trump Americans Need Their Own Political Party

512 views
1 min read

Tucker Carlson’s interview with former Republican US Representative Steve King explains how Washington really works, and it is not according to campaign slogans. 

The interview will help Trump Americans understand that no representation of them is coming from the Republican Party, not on immigration or anything else.  Trump himself was easily rolled by the Establishment.  Trump had no idea what he was up against and no staff able to clue him in and help him deal with it.  The Republican Establishment supported the lie that the 2020 presidential election was free of vote fraud and accepted the election fraud as the price of getting rid of Trump.  Do not confuse Trump supporters with the Republican Party.  They stand for different things. Kevin McCarthy will be a worse Speaker of the House for Trump Supporters than Nancy Pelosi. 

Trump supporters have no future in the Republican Party, which is cemented to the Establishment.  Trump supporters need to withdraw in mass and form a new party.  It is time for the Republican Party to be discarded. Instead of trying to operate within the Republican Party, Trump should offer his supporters a new party.  If they don’t follow him, they will have sealed their own doom.  

Both Tucker Carlson and Steve King missed the real reason US Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, helped the New York Times frame US Rep. King, a principled conservative, as a racist. It wasn’t the three or four words that the presstitutes took out of context and used to concoct a “white supremacist” issue. It was Rep. King’s defense of Western civilization.   Western civilization is white civilization.  To defend it is to defend white people. To defend white people, whom the New York Times 1619 Project labels racist, is racist.  Therefore Rep. King is a racist because he defends Western civilization.

This shows the deadly damage that has been inflicted on Western civilization by its own intellectuals, media, universities and schools, and politicians of both parties.  We have reached the point that we cannot defend our own civilization, our own existence, without being demonized.  Such a civilization is dead, a subject for archaeologists.

India: Journalists in Post-Journalism

335 views
7 mins read

The military-style “search and seize” raid conducted on October 31, 2022 by the Crime Branch of the Delhi police at the offices of The Wire and the homes of its three founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan, M.K.Venu, and Sidharth Bhatia, deputy editor Jahnavi Sen, and product-and-business head Mithun Kidambi marks a new low for media freedom in India.

The police seized various devices and the hard disks of two computers used by the accounts staff under cover of investigating a criminal case. This case is based on a complaint made by Amit Malviya, a BJP leader who heads the ruling party’s national Information Technology department, that the three Meta stories published earlier in October by The Wire were a conspiracy to harm his reputation through forgery. The Wire placed on record its demand for the hash value—a unique numerical value used to ensure the integrity of a device and its data—of the mobile phones, iPads, computers, and hard disks seized and for cloned copies of the devices and hard disks seized to be kept at a neutral place. But this reasonable and lawful demand was simply ignored.

The First Information Report (FIR) registered by the police against the journalists covers charges under the Indian Penal Code of “cheating and dishonesty” (Section 420) , “forgery for purpose of cheating” (468), “forgery for the purpose of harming reputation” (469), “using as genuine a forged document or electronic record” (471), “punishment for defamation” (500), all read along with provisions covering “punishment for criminal conspiracy”(120B) and “acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention” (34).

This is a formidable array of charges. Anyone familiar with the basic facts relating to how the Meta stories came to be published in The Wire and the role of Devesh Kumar, the technology consultant hired by the publication monthly, can understand that the criminal case registered is both unjust and over-the-top. Mens rea, “the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime as opposed to the action or conduct of the accused”, needs to be established and it is clear as daylight that everyone named as accused in the FIR lacked mens rea.

Strangely, Devesh Kumar, who has played the starring role in this affair, is not named in the FIR, although it has been reported that his digital devices have been seized and he has been interrogated by the police, raising suspicions about what the investigation is up to with regard to him. As for the charge of criminal defamation, an editorial in The Hindu calls attention to settled law: “the police should not really be investigating the defamation angle, as Supreme Court judgments are clear that prosecution for defamation should only be at the instance of the aggrieved person, and there can be no police FIR.”

From this, it appears that the targeting of The Wire through criminal prosecution at political behest is, first, to push it into a difficult situation where, as the saying goes, “the process is the punishment”; and, secondly, to make an example of it before the rest of the news media.

A clear & distinctive voice 

Now let me come to the journalistic role and responsibility of The Wire and its editors in this sorry affair. Let us first recognise that in the seven years of its existence as an independent and not-for-profit digital news media venture, The Wire has operated with limited financial and reporting resources but done sterling work that few other media organisations do in India. It has handled sensitive information, offered progressive comment fearlessly, and specialised in complex investigations, its Pegasus-India exposé as a partner in an international journalistic collaboration being an outstanding example. In a short period, this digital news venture has emerged on the Indian media scene as a player with a clear and distinctive voice, a player who counts journalistically and politically, and is followed by a growing number of serious readers, listeners, and viewers. No wonder that the far-Right Hindutva regime and its supporters regard The Wire as an adversary to be silenced or put out of action.

Unfortunately, while working on and publishing stories relating to Meta, India, and the BJP, The Wire’s editorial systems failed egregiously. Fed false information and fabricated digital proof by Devesh Kumar, against whom The Wire has lodged a police complaint, it reported that Meta’s “XCheck” programme had granted extraordinary privileges to Malviya, including immunity against review of his posts by content moderators and the right to report any post and have it taken down, no questions asked. When independent experts questioned this, The Wire, after some doubling down on what had been published by relying further on Devesh Kumar’s fabrications, conducted an internal enquiry that detected the fraud, retracted the stories, and editorially apologised to readers. The Wire’s editorial promised to learn from this and put in place robust editorial processes for checking and cross-checking documents and all source-based information, and in future have all technical evidence verified by independent experts before publication.

The criticism of The Wire’s journalism in the Meta-India stories, and in a couple of investigative articles published earlier, notably a hard-to-believe story by Ayushman Kaul and the same untrustworthy Devesh Kumar about a mysterious super-app known as “Tek Fog” developed by the BJP, is legitimate and necessary. The “Tek Fog” story has now been taken out of public view, pending internal review, and one hopes the publication will soon come out with an authoritative statement on what went wrong in that case. The criticism that the Meta stories, and possibly a few others, published by The Wire, are examples of “confirmation bias”, which is defined as “the tendency to interpret and accept new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories”, is also legitimate. In a mostly sympathetic article titled “A prominent Indian independent news site destroys its own credibility”, The Economist made good-natured fun of The Wire’s Meta-Malviya story as an example of the well-known tendency of “wanting to believe”—but also pointed to the lesson that “misinformation is generated by all sides”, that “it is often done in good faith”, and that “scepticism is more important than ever.”

With confirmation bias and “wanting to believe”, The Wire is hardly alone, and its recent discomfiture needs to be viewed in proper context. Is there any major news media organisation in India or abroad that can honestly say it has not blundered in sourcing sensitive stories or has not purveyed misinformation and false propaganda or has never been taken for a ride by bad actors? The answer is obvious. A shocking example, with calamitous impact, from 2002-2003: The New York Times, Judith Miller, WMD, and the Iraq War (look up the literature on the subject).       

When a media organisation publishes a story or a series of stories based on information that turns out to be egregiously false, it is unquestionably a serious matter. But the remedy must be found within the media organisation and within the profession. Precisely formulated and actionable codes of conduct and institutional mechanisms for self-correction are important to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of journalism. The Wire’s editors are experienced and ethical journalists and their work is supported by an independent ombudsperson, or readers’ or public editor, Pamela Philipose. Her fortnightly column published in The Wire on November 5, 2022 is helpful for its critical and constructive reflections and the lessons it offers for contemporary journalism. An instructive citation in the ombudsperson’s column is to an article, written by chief leader writer Randeep Ramesh, that The Guardian published for its bicentennial, “What we got wrong: the Guardian’s worst errors of judgment over 200 years” . It’s an extraordinary read.

There has been more than enough gloating over The Wire’s discomfiture and legal troubles in the social media and, to an extent, in the mainstream news media, most notoriously on a couple of television channels adept at doing hit jobs. The question has been raised: was it dishonourable for The Wire to throw Devesh Kumar, its journalistic collaborator, under the bus? The answer is simple: under normal circumstances it should and would have handled the matter internally through journalistic due process; but under the present circumstances it had no choice but to file a counter-complaint for legal reasons and to protect its reputation.  Fortunately, in this fraught situation, many professional media bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, organisations of working journalists, press clubs, and individual journalists have rallied in solidarity with The Wire. Further, editorials in major Indian newspapers have come out against the police action and the criminalisation of journalism when it stumbles or takes missteps.

In the midst of all this, the focus should not be taken away from what Meta, which is besieged by controversies and is under intense international scrutiny on various counts, is up to in India. The country which has, at 330 million, the world’s largest number of Facebook users and, at 230 million, the world’s largest number of Instagram users, has a vital stake in ensuring that the harms done by disinformation and misinformation that still circulate freely on these and other social media platforms, including Twitter, are minimised, even if they cannot be eliminated. The Indian news media have their task cut out: they must do careful and rigorous investigation, applying higher editorial standards, of the ways of the social media giants and the effects of the content circulating on their platforms.

Solidarity among journalists, solidarity deriving from concrete issues and based on principles, has never been more important than it is today. Let us remind ourselves that freedom of the press, which is constitutionally guaranteed as an integral part of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, has come under increasing pressure, risk, threat, and targeted assault in India over the past eight years, after a BJP-majority government came to power at the Centre, setting the stage for a communal-authoritarian offensive that has been termed “the second coming of Hindutva.” Let us remind ourselves that in 2022, India ranks 150th (only a little ahead of 157th-ranked Pakistan) among 180 countries and territories figuring in the annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), a Paris-based independent organisation that dedicates itself to freedom of information.

I believe The Wire and the progressive, upstanding, and fearless journalism it exemplifies will emerge stronger thanks to the lessons learned from this serious setback.

Originally published in Front Line, India

Across Africa, Water Conflict Threatens Security, Health, and the Environment

195 views
4 mins read

Water is a finite resource on our planet. We can only rely on what we have, which translates to about 2.5 percent of drinkable fresh water. Of that amount, only 0.4 percent currently exists in lakes, rivers, and moisture in the atmosphere. The strain of this limited supply grows by the day and as this continues, the detrimental impact will continue to be felt in places least equipped to find alternative solutions—in particular, the African continent.

The global population is estimated to reach around 9.6 billion people by 2050. This is triple the number of humans on the planet just a few decades ago, having to exist with the same amount of water, not taking into account the nonhuman animals and plants that also rely on water to survive.

More than a third of the planet’s population living without access to clean, safe water live in sub-Saharan Africa. And nearly two-thirds—some four billion people—live in water-scarce areas. With this number set to steadily rise, the United Nations predicts that around 700 million people across the world might be “displaced by intense water scarcity” by 2030.

Scarcity-Led Conflict and Crisis

Each year, the world is seeing extreme water-related events including heatwaves and droughts. In 2021 on the African continent alone, Madagascar, Kenya, and Somalia experienced severe water shortages. And with scarcity, conflict tends to follow.

A number of African conflicts are being fueled by competition for dwindling natural resources. At a state level, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been engaged in a continuing dispute over fresh water in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Similar issues are playing out across every level of society.

Cameroon, for instance, experienced a violent dispute over water between fishermen and herders in a town near the border of Chad in December 2021. The disagreement over rights to water found in a shrinking Lake Chad led to the death of 22 people and a further 100,000 people displaced from their homes as the two groups fought.

“Once conflicts escalate, they are hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on water security, creating vicious cycles of conflict,” said Susanne Schmeier, senior lecturer in water law and diplomacy at IHE Delft.

This negative feedback loop fueled by conflict is further compounded by the effect on water quality, agriculture, and forced migration. “With very rare exceptions, no one dies of literal thirst,” said Peter Gleick, head of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute. “But more and more people are dying from contaminated water or conflicts over access to water.”

This insight speaks to the complex interplay between water shortage and conflict. According to research from the Pacific Institute, the impact of water on agriculture plays an even greater role in contributing to conflict—a view backed up by the fact that agriculture accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use in Africa.

Another conflict-causing factor is the social impact of water shortages. With up to a quarter of the world’s population facing serious water scarcity at least one month of the year, people are being forced to migrate. In 2017, at least 20 million people from Africa and the Middle East left their homes due to food shortages and conflict caused by serious drought.

Food Insecurity Due to Impact on Wildlife and Agriculture

Food insecurity caused by water shortages is being compounded by the loss of wildlife. With a drop in their rainy seasons, Kenya’s sheep, camels, and cattle have been in decline. This has led to a threat of 2.5 million people potentially going without food due to drought, according to the United Nations.

The impact of drought is taking a severe toll on agriculture, particularly in counties where this forms the mainstay of their economy. In South Africa, for instance, agriculture is key to the functioning of the country when it comes to job creation, food security, rural development, and foreign exchange.

Water shortages in the country impact both commercial and subsistence farmers. But it is the subsistence farmers who are hardest hit by the droughts, according to a 2021 paper published by a group of international scientists in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

While commercial farmers are able to offset a lack of rain through alternative water supplies, as well as storage and irrigation technologies, subsistence farmers who are reliant on rain, the scientists write, “are particularly susceptible to drought as they highly depend on climate-sensitive resources.” They also point out that the impact is worsened by the fact that this form of farming is tied to farmers’ own food security.

Adaptation

There is no way to avoid the impacts of water scarcity and drought. The best thing to do is manage and mitigate risk where possible. A tool proposed by the group Water, Peace and Security is an early warning monitor capable of tracking information on rainfall, crop yields, and political, economic, and social factors. According to the group, this tool would “predict water-related conflicts up to a year in advance, which allows for mediation and government intervention.”

Another common de-risking approach to conflict is water-sharing agreements. Since the end of World War II, 200 of these agreements have been signed. Despite this, the UN has consistently failed to introduce a Water Convention that would see over 43 countries sharing transboundary rivers and lakes.

A good example where a water-sharing agreement helped avoid conflict can be found in Southern Africa. In 2000, with tensions rising over shared resources, an agreement was reached between Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia that helped avoid further issues.

Reducing water loss remains the most recommended method countries should adopt to avoid future catastrophes. Agriculture and mining, in particular, are two industries that could do more to limit their water wastage. Another policy, suggested by Iceland, is to increase the price of water in relation to its supply, as a way to help curb water wastage.

Desalination is also a popular method used to free up more water, using seawater to increase supply. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses desalination to supply the country with at least 50 percent of its water supply. Water recycling, known as “gray” water is another low-cost alternative used by farmers to offset the impact of drought.

As water scarcity continues to become more commonplace, so too will these mitigation and adaptation strategies. The question is, will they be enough?

Are COP27 and G20 Mere Talk Shows?

/
264 views
2 mins read

COP 27 in Egypt was organized with much fanfare and expectations, similar to  COP 26 at Glasgow that was organised in 2021. While nothing significant was achieved in combating the climate crisis subsequent to the  Glasgow Meet, one thought that COP 27 would be more productive and would find some real solutions to overcome the climate crisis.

Leaders and representatives from most countries participated in COP 27 including the President of USA, Prime Minister of UK and so many others.  Cosmetic speeches were made by the leaders, committing themselves to save the world from global warming and noxious emissions. Finally, resolutions would be adopted after representatives of all countries put their heads together. With no tangible agreement about the fundamental issues, the resolutions would inevitably end up as face-saving documents.

During COP 27, the UAE President clearly said that the UAE would not reduce the production of crude oil and natural gas. In the wake of the Ukraine war, a number of countries in Europe are increasing their usage level of coal as fuel, in spite of the fact that burning of coal as fuel will lead to the production of carbon dioxide and other emissions causing global warming. Countries like India, China and others that are import dependent on crude oil and natural gas, are planning to increase the production and use of coal and they have not concealed this in their speeches. There were further discussions about providing fund support by rich countries to developing countries for reducing emissions. But, there has been no clear agreement or commitment on this.

The net result of COP 27 would be that there would be no appreciable change in the ground realities with regard to climate issues. As usual, activists have been protesting about the cosmetic discussions during COP 27 Meet, and they all seem to be part of all the climate meetings, of course from outside!

If this is the case with regard to COP 27, the G 20 meeting also seems to have taken place in a routine manner which ultimately looks like only a get-together of leaders from twenty countries.

The Ukraine-Russia war has destabilized the world economy but there is no real effort to stop the war by the G 20 leaders, Resolution was passed condemning Russia for the Ukraine war, with Russia opposing the resolution. There are a few other countries which have taken a neutral stand, as they do not want to displease either Russia or USA and NATO countries.

Again, in the present conflict-ridden world with an active war going on between Russia and Ukraine and with Ukraine being supported actively by NATO countries and USA, how can there be an agreement on any issue in the G 20 meeting?

Obviously, COP 27 and G 20 take place at regular intervals and they seem to have become mere periodical calendar events.

While this is the scenario with regard to COP 27 and G-20, even U N Security council meetings have become talk shows in a discussion forum, with countries disagreeing and leaving the meetings after agreeing to disagree.

There are many peace and climate activists in the world who constantly speak and write about restoring peace in the world and solving climate issue problems.  They fill media space but the sane voices of these activists are not treated with any respect by the leadership of various countries, whose priority is self-interest rather than the world interest.

Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.

Ultimately, COP 27 and G 20 appear to have become mere diversions and a sort of entertainment for people around the world who look at these events with amusement and misgivings.

Sri Lanka: Ramifications of Constitutionalism

/
492 views
5 mins read

The Sri Lankan Tamils of the North and East have been urging for the recognition of their traditional homelands from almost the time of Independence. During the grant of Independence, the Tamils though occupying their traditional homelands in the North and East were also resident in all parts of the Country for Government jobs,  trade, commerce and what not.

The Tamils felt safe and secure under British rule. Often the Sinhalese leaders would say the Britishers showed partiality to the Tamils and they adopted a policy of divide and rule. That concept was wrong. The British had good opinion of the Tamils, not because the British wanted to divide and rule (in fact they had no reason to divide and rule since most Sinhalese leaders aped the Britishers, converted to their religion and supported the British except the Left Leaders) but because the Ceylon Tamils were hard working, duty conscious, conscientious workers and they preferred them in many of their colonies. After all the Bhagavad Gita had preached disinterested devotion to duty several centuries ago and the idea was implanted among the Hindus, whether Vaishnavites or Saivites. It was the duty consciousness of the Upcountry Tamils that made Ceylon (Sri Lanka) prosper under the British and even thereafter.

The Federal Party was formed in 1949. If we had requested the British to grant us Federalism in the first instance it would have been granted because the Kandyan Sinhalese also wanted Federalism. Maybe because most of his clients were from the South, without disturbing the demography pattern of the time, Mr. G.G.Ponnambalam, the then leader of the Tamils put forward the 50:50 request, where the majority Sinhalese were to hold half the seats in Parliament and all the Opposition Parties together were to hold the balance 50%. This request was rejected by the British.

Mr.SJVChelvanayagam left Mr.Ponnambalam’s Tamil Congress Party and formed the Federal Party in 1949. The reason for asking a federal dispensation was because power was soon going to pass on to the hands of the Sinhala majority in the Country. Since the Britishers had unified the Country’s administration in 1833, and they were leaving now, the Tamils justifiably felt unsafe among the Sinhalese majority. They had to preserve their traditional homelands and the best way to preserve their areas was by asking for self-rule in their own areas without dividing the Country.

Federalism is not dividing a Country. On the contrary, it is a way by which unity could be maintained among disparate communities. The Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka are the most qualified people for federalism. They have occupied continuously for over 3000 years their traditional homelands in the North and East, have had a language of their own, culture of their own and in fact kingdoms of their own before the British unified the Country for administrative reasons. Even though Eastern Province had several sub-kingdoms they were all governed by Tamils. They paid tithes sometimes to the Kandyan King. The last King of Kandy was not a Sinhalese. He signed the peace treaty with the British in 1815, in Tamil. Tamil was the language of Royalty.

The reservations among the Tamil leaders, especially Mr. SJV Chelvanayagam, was to soon prove true. First the Upcountry Tamils were disenfranchised. Then by the Sinhala Only Act, the Tamil Government servants were driven away from  State Services.Then through pogroms and riots the Tamils who lived in the Provinces outside the North and East were driven away. Ultimately by standardisation, the studious Tamil students found it extremely difficult to enter higher echelons of the Educational ladder. Meanwhile lands falling within the boundaries of the traditional Tamil homelands were soon being expropriated and Sinhalese from the South were made to colonise those areas.Many of them were Island’s Reconvicted Criminals.

In 1956 Mr.SWRD Bandaranaike when he brought the Sinhala Only Act, did not foresee what he was going to do to the Country. He knew he was being unreasonable to the Tamils who occupied a distinct area, had a language of their own, culture of their own and belonged to religions other than that of the majority. For political reasons, to defeat the UNP, he formulated his policy of Sinhala in 24 hours. But he thought he could bring in the Reasonable Use of Tamil Act and assuage the Tamils. But he had released forces by his political short-sightedness which he just could not control. The Buddhist Priests stormed his residence at Rosmead Place and had him tear up the Reasonable Use of Tamil document. The same unleashed forces ultimately murdered him.

Lee Kwan Yew when he met SWRD, the Prime Minister, the latter had boasted, puffing at his pipe, that he had made the language of the majority the State language of Ceylon! Lee had warned him that it was wrong. In fact, he had made four languages, Chinese, Tamil, Malay and English, the State languages of Singapore and Singapore today prospers while Sri Lanka is bankrupt! 

Political, Social and Economic mistakes have been made in this Country. Costly mistakes! Mistakes devoid of common sense.Mistakes merely to get the votes of People at the next election. But the wise would not cry over spilt milk.They would ask how best could we change the situation and improve our lot.

Let me come to your question now. Yes!  I did say that unless the President consents to a Constitution other than a Unitary Constitution for Sri Lanka it would be purposeless having talks with Leaders of Tamil Parties. Under a Unitary Constitution, the majority community rules the roost. They predominate in everything. They decide what is good for minorities. They had the power to obstruct the progress of communities other than theirs, as we have seen in the case of the Northern Provincial Council. Projects beneficial to the People of the North had been sabotaged. We were not allowed to have the Chief Minister’s Fund when other Provinces had. All Provinces have seen modernisation in this Country except the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Only those who would go and cringe and beg the members of the majority community were found worthy of condescension by the powers that be.

We have not been allowed to run our own schools. Our fishermen are unable to fish in their traditional fishing areas. The Military controls everything from land to sea and may be air too! The Military are stationed in the North and East from the time of the end of war continuously. Expropriation of our resources by the South takes place daily. Appropriation of our lands by various Departments and most notably by the Mahaweli Authority takes place continuously. Buddhist places of worship are coming up illegally in places where there are no Buddhists living. Chinese influence is maintained in Tamil areas with ulterior motives. I once heard a Government Official tell some Chinese officials that they were close to the Chinese because of the closeness of their religion and that the Tamils are Hindus, meaning the Tamils are close to India.

I could go on enumerating the woes of the Tamil speaking of the North and East.

But the fact remains that talking reconciliation and making ad hoc changes to the existing Constitution as it is today being a Unitary one, would take us nowhere. The Tamils need to be freed from the yoke of Sinhala dominance. Even though the LTTE had asked for a separate State, our Voters have brought us into Parliament on the basis that we agitate for a Federal / Confederal Constitution so that we could live within our traditional homelands in amity with other communities, still continuing to be Sri Lankans. My Party alone asks for a Confederation because we want to minimise interference by the Central Government in the areas of our residence.

Unless we divide Power amicably among the different communities in consonance with the areas of their residence we cannot live in Peace and Unity. Always the majority Community would want to interfere and sabotage the activities of others if they feel unequal to the others. The Sinhalese though the majority in this Island suffer from an inferiority complex. The fact that a large contingent of Tamils live close by in South India might be one cause. The fact that Tamils are more hardworking and industrious is another reason. After all the Tamils who were driven out from Sri Lanka have proved their mettle in far-off lands. It took over twenty countries to coalesce to destroy Prabhakaran. He kept the North and East under his control for almost thirty years against a Sinhala Government all-powerful!

You would realise why a constitution other than a Unitary Constitution is necessary. We could discuss the difficulties that we may face in bringing about a federal constitution but certainly to continue with a Unitary Constitution will only bring misery to all.

Views expressed are personal

The Need for an International Anti Corruption Court

/
461 views
4 mins read

“You know the old Russian proverb.  What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.” ― Daniel Silva, The Cellist

In a recent interview on BBC’s HARDtalk, the interviewee was Judge Mark L. Wolf – a Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and Chair of the NGO Integrity Initiative International – who had initiated a proposal for the establishment of an International Anti Corruption Court (IACC)  at various fora such as the 2012 St. Petersburg International Legal Forum; the 2014 World Forum on Global Governance, and in platforms such as the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post with articles in 2014. At the interview, Judge Wolf clarified that the proposed IACC would not only target corrupt leaders of countries but also any individual or entity that is allegedly guilty of kleptocracy.

In March 2019 at a discussion convened and hosted by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and  participated by a distinguished array of judges, attorneys, human rights specialists, and academics, discussions ranged from the meaning and purpose of an IACC – as to whether such a body would be able to contribute to global peace and security- to the methodology to establish an IACC.  Judge Wolf was an active participant in this event as well as  Robert, President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation, Founding Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Justice Richard Goldstone, formerly of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Chief Prosecutor at the initial United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The IACC is suggested as a punitive judicial tool to counter kleptocracy which is defined as a society or system ruled by people who use their power to steal their country’s resources. The initial problem with bringing those guilty of kleptocracy is that often they act with impunity as the institutions that are charged with countering this egregious activity are controlled by them and are therefore destitute of effectively carrying out their duties.  

It is distressing that kleptocrats are everywhere in various forms of human embodiment and form a systemic threat.  At the forefront are corrupt politicians who, in Justice Goldstone’s words “are abetting other compromised institutions, such as the judiciary, police, and prosecutorial offices, thereby making domestic prosecution ineffective”. The learned judge went on to opine that a  supranational, neutral institution would be the last resort to hold officials accountable for their corruption and theft of resources belonging to a State in these countries to account by enforcing  internationally recognized protocols against corruption.

In manner and form the proposed IACC would derive inspiration from the currently existing International Criminal Court (ICC) and have  the authority to prosecute instances of grand corruption by high-level political leaders. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in its 2019 Bulletin says: ” Just as nations that are signatories to the ICC are subject to its jurisdiction, so too would signatories to the IACC allow the Court to serve as a venue of last resort for violations of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The Court would be empowered only to bring charges when a signatory to the UNCAC did not make a good faith effort to bring charges”.

It is encouraging that there is already in effect a multilateral treaty against corruption.  The UNCAC is the only legally binding international anti-corruption multilateral treaty. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2003 and entered into force in December 2005.  However, treaties can only be enforced on States Parties who ratify them.  Even if an IACC is established through a treaty, such a court would be ineffective against a non-party to the treaty establishing the court.  Nonetheless, its importance cannot be understated.  One alternative would be to bring the treaty into the domestic jurisdiction of a court through  the Global Administrative Law (GAL) theory which posits that the administrative law type of mechanisms allow individual and national courts to be part of a checks and balances system of global governance in anti corruption. Here,  global governance does not mean world governance but instead  a global approach to the governance of anti corruption that requires each component system, including international, domestic and global institutions to collaborate with each other.

GAL came into existence as a theory in the first decade of the 21st Century.  The importance of GAL is apparent in the current context  where the world is dominated by such forces as social media through which many practice post truth, cancel culture, and fake news that can enable spin doctors and ideologues to deflect the truth about their own corruption.  The GAL Project is focused on an emerging field of research and practice where administrative law-type mechanisms that address issues of  transparency, participation, accountability, and review operate within the parameters of global governance.

The GAL theory posits that administrative law and its principles must be applied not as a mutually exclusive realm but in conjunction with the principles of international law and other related disciplines. Like domestic administrative law, GAL could be an amalgam of a scholarly approach or methodology and a set of actual norms, ‘practices’, or activities or mechanisms.  In other words GAL would be a combination of the legal rules, principles, and institutional norms that apply to administration from a global perspective rather than a structure that demonstrate and exhibits a mere intrastate legal and political realm of authority.

GAL would be a necessary adjunct to the web of treaties that are adopted by the United Nations but unfortunately is riddled with the discretionary option that States have in being the ultimate arbiter of being bound by such agreements.  Of course, the United Nations is neither the world’s judge nor its police, as Dag Hammarskjold, a Secretary General of the United Nations said: ”  The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”.  There is something in what Judge Wolf said at the BBC interview – that an IACC would be outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations – an individual and independent body that is not established by a treaty of the UN. This principle, coupled with the infusion of GAL, could well be the basis of an IACC.

Private Greed Prevails Over Humanity’s Survival

/
250 views
6 mins read

COP27 has begun in Sharm el-Sheikh. Although the Ukraine war and the U.S. midterm elections have shifted our immediate focus away from the battle against global warming, it still remains a central concern of our epoch. Reports indicate that not only are we failing to meet our climate change goals, but we are also falling short of the targets by a large margin. Worse, the potent methane greenhouse gas emissions have grown far more rapidly, posing as much of a climate change threat as carbon dioxide. Even though methane lasts for a shorter time in the atmosphere, viewed over a period of 100 years, it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The net result is that we are almost certain to fail in our target to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. And if we do not act soon, even a target of 2 degrees Celsius is hard to achieve. At this rate, we are looking at a temperature rise of 2.5-3 degrees Celsius and the devastation of our civilization. Worse, the impact will be much higher in the equatorial and tropical regions, where most of the world’s poor live.

In this column, I will address two issues. One is the shift from coal to natural gas as a transitional fuel, and the other is the challenge of storing electricity, without which we cannot shift successfully to renewable energy.

The advanced countries—the U.S. and members of the European Union—bet big on natural gas, which is primarily methane, as the transition fuel from coal. In Glasgow during COP26, advanced countries even made coal the key issue, shifting the focus from their greenhouse emissions to that of China and India as big coal users. The assumption in using natural gas as a transitional fuel is that its greenhouse impact is only half that of coal. Methane emissions also last for a shorter time—about 12 years—in the atmosphere before converting to carbon dioxide and water. The flip side is that it is a far more potent greenhouse gas. Its effects are 30 times greater over a 100-year period than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. So even a much smaller amount of methane has a much more significant global warming impact than carbon dioxide.

The bad news on the methane front is that methane leakage from the natural gas infrastructure is much higher, possibly as much as six times more—according to a March 2022 Stanford University study—than the advanced countries have been telling us. The high methane leakage from natural gas extraction not only cancels out any benefits of switching to natural gas as an intermediary fuel but even worsens global warming.

There are two sets of data on methane now available. One measures the actual leakage of methane from the natural gas infrastructure with satellites and planes using infrared cameras. The technology of measuring methane leaks from natural gas infrastructure is easy and cheap. After all, we are able to detect methane in exoplanets far away from the solar system. Surely, saving this planet from heat death is a much higher priority! The other data is the measurement of atmospheric methane conducted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. estimates that 1.4 percent of all natural gas produced in the U.S. leaks into the atmosphere. But the March 2022 Stanford University study using cameras and small planes that fly over natural gas infrastructure found that the figure is likely to be 9.4 percent—more than six times higher than the EPA’s estimate. Even if methane leaks are only 2.5 percent of natural gas production, they will offset all the benefits of switching from coal to natural gas. “Clean” natural gas may be three to four times worse than even dirty coal. At least in the hands of capital!

The EPA does not conduct any physical measurements. All it uses to estimate methane emissions is a formula that involves a number of subjective factors, along with the number of wells, length of pipelines, etc. Let us not forget that there are many people in the U.S. who either do not believe in or choose to ignore the fact of global warming. They would like to take a crowbar to even a weakened EPA, dismantling all measures to reduce global warming.

The impact of methane leaks can be seen in another set of figures. The World Meteorological Organization reported the biggest jump in “methane concentrations in 2021 since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago.” While WMO remains discreetly silent on why this jump has occurred, the relation between switching to natural gas and the consequent rise of methane emissions is hard to miss.

The tragedy of methane leaks is that they are easy to spot with today’s technology and not very expensive to fix. But companies have no incentive to take even these baby steps as it impacts their current bottom line. The larger good—even bigger profits, but over a longer time frame—does not interest them. They aren’t likely to change unless they are forced to by regulatory or direct state action.

The cynicism of the rich countries—the U.S. and members of the EU—on global warming can be seen in their conduct during the Ukraine war. The European Union has restarted some of its coal plants, increasing coal’s share in the energy mix. Further, the EU has cynically argued that developing oil and gas infrastructure in Africa is all right as long as it is solely for supply to Europe, not for use in Africa. African nations, according to the EU, must instead use only clean, renewable energy! And, of course, such energy infrastructure must be in the hands of European companies!

The key to a transition to renewable energy—the only long-term solution to global warming—is to find a way of storing energy. Renewables, unlike fossil fuels, cannot be used at will, as the wind, sun, and even water provide a continuous flow of energy. While water can be stored in large reservoirs, wind and sun cannot be, unless they are converted to chemical energy in batteries. Or unless they are converted to hydrogen and then stored in either tank or natural storage in geological formations, underground or in salt caverns.

There has been a lot of hype about batteries and electric cars. Missing here is that batteries with current technology have a much lower energy density than oil or coal. The energy from oil or natural gas is 20-40 times that of the most efficient battery today. For an electric vehicle, that is not such a major issue. It simply determines how often the vehicle’s batteries need to be charged and how long charging will take. It means developing a charging infrastructure with a quick turnaround time. The much bigger problem is how to store energy at the grid level.

Grid-level storage means supplying the grid with electricity from stored energy. Grid-level batteries are being suggested to meet this task. What the proponents of grid-level batteries neglect to inform us is that they may supply power for short-term fluctuations—night and day, windy and non-windy days—but they cannot meet the demand from long-term or seasonal fluctuations. This brings us to the question of the energy density of storage: How much energy does a kilogram of lithium battery hold as compared to a kilogram of oil, natural gas, or coal? The answer with current technology is 20-40 times less. The cost of building such mammoth storage to meet seasonal fluctuations will simply exhaust all our lithium (or any other battery material) supplies.

I will not address the prohibitive energy cost—electric or fossil fuel—of private versus public or mass transportation, and why we should switch to the latter. I will instead focus on addressing the larger question of how to store renewable energy so that we can run our electricity infrastructure when wind or sun is not there.

Is it possible that a new technology will solve this problem? (Remember the dream of nuclear energy that will be not only clean but also so cheap that it will not need to be metered?) But do we bet our civilization’s future on such a possibility?

If not, we have to look at existing solutions. They exist, but using them means seeking alternatives to batteries for addressing our grid-level problems of intermittent renewable energy. It means repurposing our existing hydro-projects to work as grid-level storage and developing hydrogen storage for use in fuel cells. No extra dams or reservoirs, as the opponents of hydroelectricity projects fear. And of course, it means more public transportation instead of private transportation.

All of these existing solutions mean making changes on a societal level that corporate interests oppose—after all, doing so would require public investments for social benefits and not for private profits. Capital privileges short-term private profits over long-term social benefits. Remember how oil companies had the earliest research to show the impact of global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions? They not only hid these results for decades but also launched a campaign denying that global warming is linked to greenhouse gases. And they funded climate change deniers.

The contradiction at the heart of global warming is private greed over social needs. And who funds such a transition, the poor or the rich? This is also what COP27 is all about, not simply about how to stop global warming.

Russia strategises with Iran for the long haul in Ukraine

209 views
5 mins read

Ignoring the hype in the US media about White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Kissingerian diplomacy over Ukraine, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev, former KGB counterintelligence officer and longstanding associate of President Putin, travelled to Tehran last Wednesday in the equivalent of a knockout punch in geopolitics. 

Patrushev called on President Ebrahim Raisi and held detailed discussions with Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the representative of the Supreme leader and secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. The visit marks a defining moment in the Russia-China partnership and plants a signpost on the trajectory of the war in Ukraine. 

The Iranian state media quoted Raisi as saying, “The development of the extent and expansion of the scale of war [in Ukraine] causes concern for all countries.” That said, Raisi also remarked that Tehran and Moscow are upgrading relations to a “strategic” level, which is “the most decisive response to the policy of sanctions and destabilisation by the United States and its allies.” 

The US State Department reacted swiftly on the very next day with spokesman Ned Price warning that “This is a deepening alliance that the entire world should view as a profound threat… this is a relationship that would have implications, could have implications beyond any single country.” Price said Washington will work with allies to counter Russian-Iranian military ties. 

Patrushev’s talks in Tehran touched on highly sensitive issues that prompted President Vladimir Putin to follow up with Raisi on Saturday. The Kremlin readout said the two leaders “discussed a number of current issues on the bilateral agenda with an emphasis on the continued building up of interaction in politics, trade and the economy, including transport and logistics. They agreed to step up contacts between respective Russian and Iranian agencies.” 

In this connection, Patrushev’s exceptionally strong support for Iran over the current disturbances in that country must be understood properly. Patrushev stated: “We note the key role of Western secret services in organising mass riots in Iran and the subsequent spread of disinformation about the situation in the country via Persian-language Western media existing under their control. We see this as overt interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.” 

Russian security agencies share information with Iranian counterparts on hostile activities of western intelligence agencies. Notably, Patrushev sidestepped Iran’s suspicions regarding involvement of Saudi Arabia. Separately, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also publicly offered to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh. 

All this is driving Washington insane. On the one hand, it is not getting anywhere, including at President Biden’s level, to raise the spectre of Iran threat and rally the Arab regimes of the Persian Gulf all over again. 

Most recently, Washington resorted to theatrics following up an unsubstantiated report by Wall Street Journal about an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia in the coming days. The US forces in the West Asian region increased their alert level and Washington vowed to be ready for any eventuality. But, curiously, Riyadh was unmoved and showed no interest in the US offer of protection to ward off threat from Iran.

Clearly, Saudi-Iranian normalisation process, which has been front-loaded with sensitive exchanges on their mutual security concerns, has gained traction neither side gets provoked into knee-jerk reaction.

This paradigm shift works to Russia’s advantage. Alongside its highly strategic oil alliance with Saudi Arabia, Russia is now deepening its strategic partnership with Iran.

The panic in spokesman Price’s remarks suggests that Washington has inferred that the cooperation between the security and defence agencies of Russia and Iran is set to intensify.  

What alarms Washington most is that Tehran is adopting a joint strategy with Moscow to go on the offensive and defeat the weaponisation of sanctions by the collective West. Despite decades of sanctions, Iran has built up a world class defence industry on its own steam that will put countries like India or Israel to shame. 

Shamkhani underscored the creation of “joint and synergistic institutions to deal with sanctions and the activation of the capacity of international institutions against sanctions and sanctioning countries.” Patrushev concurred by recalling the earlier agreements between the national security agencies of the two countries to chart out the roadmap for strategic cooperation, especially in regard of countering western economic and technological sanctions.

Shamkhani added that Tehran regards the expansion of bilateral and regional cooperation with Russia in the economic field as one of its strategic priorities in the conditions of US sanctions, which both countries are facing. Patrushev responded, “The most important goal of mine and my delegation in traveling to Tehran is to exchange opinions to speed up the implementation of joint projects along with providing dynamic mechanisms to start new activities in the economic, commercial, energy and technology fields.” 

Patrushev noted, “Creating synergy in transit capacities, especially the rapid completion of the North-South corridor, is an effective step to improve the quality of bilateral and international economic and commercial cooperation.” 

Patrushev and Shamkhani discussed a joint plan by Russia and Iran “to establish a friendship group of defenders of the United Nations Charter” comprising countries that bear the brunt of illegal western sanctions. 

With regard to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Shamkhani said the two countries should “intelligently use the exchangeable capacities” of the member countries. He said the danger of terrorism and extremism continues to threaten the security of the region and stressed the need to increase regional and international cooperation. 

Patrushev’s visit to Tehran was scheduled in the run-up to the conference on Afghanistan being hosted by Moscow on November 16. Iran and Russia have common concerns over Afghanistan. They are concerned over the western attempts to (re)fuel the civil war in Afghanistan. 

In a recent op-Ed in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov alleged that Britain is financing a so-called “Afghan resistance”  against the Taliban (which is reportedly operating out of Panjshir.) Kabulov wrote that the US is baiting two Central Asian states by offering them helicopters and aircraft in lieu of cooperation in covert activities against the Taliban. 

Kabulov made a sensational disclosure that the US is blackmailing the Taliban leaders by threatening them with a drone attack unless they broke off contacts with Russia and China. He said, specifically, that the US and Britain are demanding that Kabul should refrain from restricting the activities of Afghanistan-based Uyghur terrorists. 

Interestingly, Moscow is exploring the creation of a compact group of five regional states who are stakeholders in Afghanistan’s stabilisation and could work together. Kabulov mentioned Iran, Pakistan, India and China as Russia’s partners. 

Iran is a “force multiplier” for Russia in a way no other country — except China, perhaps — can be in the present difficult conditions of sanctions. Patrushev’s visit to Tehran at the present juncture, on the day after the midterms in the US, can only mean that the Kremlin has seen through the Biden administration’s dissimulation of peacemaking in Ukraine to actually derail the momentum of the Russian mobilisation and creation of new defence lines in the Kherson-Zaporozhya-Donbass direction. 

Indeed, it is no secret that the Americans are literally scratching the bottom of the barrel to deliver weapons to Ukraine as their inventory is drying up and several months or a few years are needed to replenish depleted stocks. (herehere  ,here and here

Suffice to say, from the geopolitical angle, Patrushev’s talks in Tehran — and Putin’s call soon after with Raisi — have messaged in no unmistaken terms that Russia is strategising for the long haul in Ukraine. 

1 2 3 11